Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Little Catching Up

Though not considered "brag-able" by some folks, we have had a few little successes at Casa LaJoy lately that I wanted to share here.

Angela has been taking a graphic arts class, and LOVING it!  It is a brief, "shallow" introductory course, but she is excited every week to attend and immediately comes home and shows us what she learned.  It is a small class with three other students in it, all boys, and a teacher who has 15+ years experience working in the field in NY and LA.  After the second class, I went in to pick up Angie, and the teacher pulled me aside and told me, "You really have her in the right class, she has a lot of talent and you ought to continue to encourage her in the arts.  She could really make a career of this if she stuck with it."  Though this is just an introduction to what graphic arts is, Angela has already been inspired to watch videos online to learn more, and wants to take additional classes.  We consider this a success.

Olesya and math...whew...this one has been TOUGH!  However, we are working with some new materials, and reviewing the very basics all over again.  Yes, at 14 years old we are doing 2 digit addition, whole numbers, odd and even, and place value.  Again.  She is doing well on many parts of it, but there are places where it is a total blank, and it is reminiscent of Kenny with language.  The good news?  We have found holes, and are plugging them!  Offering a different explanation seems to be helping a little, as does repetition.  Will it hold a month from now?  Who knows? But we're trying, that's all we can do.  I am reminded of Dory in Finding Nemo saying "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."  Also, we celebrated that she made two new items in the kitchen that turned out wonderfully!  A sourdough wheat bread, and a honeycomb chocolate treat.  There had been several...um...well...failures recently, mainly due to not following directions carefully, doing things out of order, etc.  It was nice to see some success for her in her favorite arena.

Though I mentioned it on Facebook already, Matthew earned a rank advancement in Civil Air Patrol and is now a Cadet officer.  We are very proud of his hard work, and today I learned that only 15% of Cadets in the program nationwide ever get this far.  More important, this now opens up other opportunities for him as far as pursuing more education in aeronautics, attending camps, etc.  We are going to look at what is available and see if we can access scholarships for him to continue to move forward.

Kenny is doing well academically and working very, very hard.  That kid takes twice as long as everyone else to complete his work, but he never complains and always gives it his best.  We seem to be entering another phase where other things are growing more challenging, as it usually happens cyclically.  Organization, logic, "brain turned on", etc. is at a low the past week or two, but every time I start feeling discouraged about the "backslide", I remind myself of how far that young man has come, and how much further I know he will go if we just keep applying ourselves as diligently as we can, and allow for the ups and downs that are inevitable with his disabilities.  He is REALLY liking the Electronics course that Dominick is teaching he and Matthew, and suddenly his writing is taking off, sounding much more mature, and with more structure to it.  He has a terrific imagination and we are beginning to explore creative writing, so he is going to shine there, for sure.

Little Joshie is doing awesome, and though there are currently no "big deals" going on for him, I find myself daily forgetting that he is ELEVEN and 4 1/2 years younger than his older siblings.  During school time, you'd just never, ever know it.  He participates with passion in our conversations and offers well thought out responses.  Oh yea!  I almost forgot about his very recent success!  Two weeks ago, as a 5th grader, he just started Pre-Algebra, having completed the 7th grade year curriculum.  He and Kenny have both decided to participate in the homeschool track season beginning in a couple of weeks, and they will compete in Grand Junction when they are done.  Neither will be contenders, really, but both are looking forward to being around friends from volleyball and enjoying themselves.

All five kids are loving TaeKwonDo, having found a new teacher in Delta (the next town over) after their beloved Mr. Dooley retired.  Because the style is different, and there are new patterns to learn, they will be at it longer to earn their black belts, but they are having a lot of fun and this instructor is teaching them a wider variety of techniques.  Even though Matt earned his black belt already, he wanted to return and keep working on it with the new instructor, so all five are involved.

We're just taking it day by day, enjoying the little things, appreciating that we are making forward progress most of the time, despite the hiccups.  Our successes are modest, our rewards though are great...and we know it.  We have areas of great deficit, but thankfully, the other areas are progressing in ways I never would have imagined.  We keep looking for new outlets for the kids, new experiences, new things to learn that they might be interested in.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Insignificant, or Is It?

There are little, seemingly insignificant moments, and I wonder if every family treasures them as we do...as every single one of us does. We had an ordinary, yet beautiful day together, filled with those moments.

Today was Dominick's day off, and other than Angela attending her Graphic Arts class, we took the day off.  One huge benefit of homeschooling for our family is the ability to create the schedule that makes sense for us, so we maximize our family time together.  During the winter, we'd literally never spend time with Dominick if we weren't able to take time off here and there during the week.

We didn't do anything interesting, not at all.  We ran a few errands, we did a little grocery shopping (got out for around $130...woohoo!), I got my hair trimmed, then we went home where I settled in and rested a bit as I am still not feeling really well.  All kinds of music was playing in the background, depending upon which room you entered...Russian, Indian, Christian, Rock...you name it.

Josh can almost always be heard singing songs from the movie "Frozen" these days, his sweet little off key voice a treasure all its own.  How that boy is changing this year!  His body is feeling so much more broad shouldered these days, he is less delicate and far more sturdy. The man is beginning to emerge, little by little, and how capable and masculine he will eventually be!  There can be nothing more beautiful than watching your adult children gradually taking shape, month after month, a little change here, a little more height there...then...there they are, more adult than child.  Now, it is harder to remember Matt as a little child than it is to think of the man.  Josh is in that transition, Kenny's is happening more subtly.  He is growing taller, but not broader at all :-)  Our gangly young man has the deep voice of an older teen, but the development of a younger one in many other ways.  There are moments though, when his thoughtful awareness of others reminds you that he too is maturing, just at his own pace.

We watched a touching film together tonight, with a theme about families with grown adult children, and how secrets and unreasonable expectations stand in the way of true authentic relationships.  Throughout the movie, we talked about how sad it was, how many families grow distant like that, and how we all hope that will never happen to us.  My fondest desire for The Limited Edition Team LaJoy is that we remain deeply rooted in our family life, even as new branches are reaching skyward.  I don't want apron strings, not at all, but I do hope we can reverse a lot of what we see around us in the world today.  It means doing things differently, it means being misunderstood much of the time, it may mean we are doing it totally wrong and all will backfire on us one day a few years down the road.  But we're trying...we're trying to get it right, and that is all we can do.  I think both Dominick and I realize, perhaps even more now as we are growing older, that there will be little accomplishment of any great importance in our lives if we fail at creating a family with healthy dynamics and children who blossom and have healthy families of their own.  We are seeking to reverse a trend, to go against the tide, to push the envelope on the whole Nurture versus Nature debate.

After the movie, we played Rummikub while Dominick played hairdresser and gave me somewhat imbalanced highlights.  Heck, I am not complaining...it was $9.95 versus $40...and no tip required!  Not many men would be willing to do that for their wives, considering it beneath them.  The boys watched, giggled, and teased while the girls started talking about makeup.  Then, after the mess was cleaned up, Dominick, Angela, Olesya and I sat at the table looking at Bollywood movie stars from India, rating them as "really hot" or "not so hot".  What a dear, sweet man I am married to who took this totally seriously, never cracked a joke, and participated in the conversation his beloved daughters so clearly wanted to have with us...ranking handsome men, sharing what they liked or didn't like in a man, revealing that this one was known to be arrogant so that made him not so cute in their eyes, or that one was known to be kind and they liked that.  They knew them all, names I can't recall, films they have watched over and over again.  It was a precious time, the kind of conversation many moms and dads don't get to have with their teenage daughters, the kind of conversation we were blessed to participate in with our lovelies.

Kenny came up to me this evening and apologized for not turning his brain on yesterday.  For some reason, he can't even explain it, he tried to cook raw cookie dough in the microwave to bake a cookie, setting it for over four minutes and almost catching it on fire.  He had never done that before, had no directions for the pre-made dough, and didn't ask for help.  He also didn't check it and put it in, and walked away.  If it hadn't been for Olesya being there to catch it, we might have had a real problem.  Around Christmas time, he tried to make fudge.  He made it totally incorrectly three times before getting it right the fourth time, all because he wouldn't follow the directions step by step or added to the directions.  He is doing so well in some ways, remarkably well, and yet in day to day life skills there are moments when I am very scared for his future.  He is so bright, and yet has some pretty strong deficits that are working against him.  When is start really panicking about his future, I try and breath deeply and remind myself we still have five more years of school ahead of us, five more years of training, and more than that if he needs it and wants it.  We have no idea if he will ever be safe to drive, and are not even talking about that at this stage.  Sometimes it is harder to have a child who is such a deep thinker, and truly intelligent...intelligent enough to understand how limited his life just might be due to things beyond his control.

But a more sweet hearted young man you would never, ever find.  He has an attitude almost unheard of in kids his age, he accepts criticism so well, he admits his weaknesses and mistakes, he is just a startling honorable 15 year old.  He also has the most contagious laugh!  How dear he is to us all, even when in Chatterbox mode!

Tonight I go to bed thinking of Bollywood Boys (They are all so young!!!) and the laughter and joking of this family of ours, giggling as everyone headed down the hallway to ready themselves for bed.  Angela came out one last time to tell me good night, and to check to see if she had hurt my feelings over a mindless silly joke, nothing at all offensive as my hair was up in a cap and she gently teased.  I laughed and gave her a hug, telling her I had thought it was hilarious and she had no need to worry.  She looked relieved and said, "I just thought maybe I went too far, and I didn't mean anything by it...you know I was just being stupid and silly, but I didn't want you to go to bed with hurt feelings if you had taken it wrong.  Sometimes we can go too far with joking, and I love you too much to do that to you."

Truly, I live within something quite different.  We all do.  We each seem to want to hold it close, and could care less if others think we are freaks.  Or, in Angela's words, we are "Uniquely Developed".

Yes, yes we are...I think I'd like to keep it that way.


Monday, February 24, 2014

OK 2014, Let's Get It Together

2014 was supposed to be a fresh start, a new beginning.  This far, it has been a less than stellar...though not overly awful...first quarter.

We were so excited to qualify for lower premiums for medical care for the kids, but it seems Dominick and I will be eating up any savings we realized.  Doesn't it just figure?  That's the way it works, I guess ::sigh::

So far in 2014 we have one ER visit for Dominick to be on an IV antibiotic for a sudden case of cellulitis that invaded his face.  We have yet to receive the bill for that one.  While still healing from that episode, he ended up at the dentist and is anticipating a tooth removal and implant with work beginning on Thursday.  We older folks all know how costly that one is.  I have been laid low with a tiny cold that turned immediately into a sinus infection, as seems to be customary for me, and I am still trying to turn the corner on that one.  This is after heading to Grand Junction a couple of weeks ago to get serious about treating my ongoing asthma and allergy issues (hence the quick sinus infections).

I am also soon to begin a new form of immunotherapy, called sublingual immunotherapy, for the allergies which is proving more costly that we had anticipated, because I am allergic to too many things and they have to create a serum that can't be contained in one bottle...so, of course, lucky me gets to spend twice as much as anyone else on it (He told me I was lucky it didn't have to be three bottles, as it was close!).  The upside is that instead of multiple injections each week, it is drops under the tongue.  I will be only the third person in Western Colorado testing this for custom mixed serum.  It is new, and we only have one allergist on the Western Slope, so I was fortunate he was beginning trials on it.  With any luck, a year from now and I will be in much better shape with this recurring asthma/allergy issue.  It would be nice to walk into someone's home and not have to be embarrassed by immediately having to hit my inhaler. It would be super nice not to have a mild cold turn into a bronchial nightmare each and every time I contract one.

We are off to a running start for 2014, don't you think? Hahaha!

It's all good though, and we remind ourselves daily how blessed we are.  Right now, we have a couple of friends being treated for cancer, and another friend's daughter in a serious coma after brain surgery due to being thrown from a horse she was riding.  All in all, it makes our petty little issues seem like nothing but mere annoyances.

I have missed blogging, and am going to try and be more diligent about getting back to they keyboard.  Our minds have been occupied and a little overwhelmed by a variety of things, and I realized that writing is more like therapy that you all get stuck reading!  It helps though to get it out, type it up, and then walk away from it...sort of a purging of the soul.  I am making myself a promise to try to return here more often each week as I used to, I think it was helpful in ways I might not have understood.

I will be spending the evening doing something I rarely do.  I will Netflix binge, get to bed early (I hope), and perhaps wake up tomorrow feeling far more like my usual self.  It's over a week now, and I really need to get back to the Land of the Living and accomplish something!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Mom Olympics

Sitting alone in the waiting area of our local Walmart hair salon, an aging grandmother accompanied by her granddaughter, who was about my age,  asked if they could occupy the chairs next to me.  I listened as the granddaughter sweetly and solicitously cared for her elderly relative, and after grandma was called back to the beautician's chair, the Mexican woman and I struck up a conversation.  I am not sure how our dialogue drifted to the topic of parenting, but soon I learned she had two grown children, both just striking out on their own in the world.  As we bantered back and forth about our children and our lives, as somehow often seems to happen to me, conversation swayed toward a more serious tone, as this lovely woman began to share how concerned she was about her 20 something year old son.

"I failed him, somehow.  He is so selfish!  He is careless and very unmotivated.  He is so different from my daughter! He's not a bad kid, he is just not who I had imagined he might be, and we are not close at all," she said, "I went back to work when he was three years old.  I was home full-time a little longer for my daughter, since she was older, and I think that made the difference."

Here she was, this mom in her late forties, beating herself up about her need to return to work 20 years ago, and feeling genuine guilt and remorse for a decision that she clearly had spent years telling herself had been the wrong thing to do.

"You know," I said, "there are no guarantees.  I could be staying home the entire time with our kids, and have the same outcome one day.  We all do our best, we all have lives that are different, and we have no crystal ball to know how one decision might effect our children's lives over another.  It sounds simplistic, but all we can do is our best, and love them."  Then I added, "Maybe you are discounting personality and gender in this. Maybe it has nothing to do with you at all, and everything to do with simply who he is."

"Hmmm...maybe.  I don't think that way very often, I just tend to blame myself.  It's impossible to know how your kids would turn out if you had done things differently, so I guess we don't give that any serious thought." she replied.

She sat quietly for a few minutes, digesting it all, then turned to me and asked, "Do you think you will have regrets?  You have obviously given up everything to be home with your kids full-time.  Do you see your kids headed in the right direction?  Do you think you will be successful, or will you look back and say you wish you had done it all differently?"

Deep questions for a discount hair salon, and not at all what I expected on a Saturday morning waiting to receive a perm.

What could I say?  How could I respond in a way that would encourage her, this woman who was obviously a caring, decent mom?  The last thing she needed was yet another event in the Mom Olympics, where she could measure herself against one more Mom who did it differently.  What might I offer her that could assure and comfort, rather than bring about more Mom Guilt?

Taking a moment to think about my response, I then looked at her and said, "I don't really know if I'll have regrets, because I am not done yet.  Neither are you, actually.  Every day provides us the opportunity to deepen our relationship with our children, and we are not done simply because they hit a certain age.  God gives us ongoing opportunities with our children, just as we are offered by God regardless of our age." Learning over and touching her arm I added, "People change, and he is very young.  Keep trying, keep talking, keep approaching him.  Whether you know it or not, he is surely still watching you, he is learning from you every day. In our family, our story with our children is a long and complicated one, too long to go into right here, but I have no idea what their outcome might be.  The only thing I am sure of, is that it will likely be very different than what I expect as I look at them right now."

The sound of her grandmother's voice chatting away with the hairdresser was able to be heard in the background, a tinkling little laugh that was bright and beautiful.  Walmart cashiers were hustling at the checkout stands behind us, as we sat in mutual silence for a little bit.  Here we were, two middle aged moms sitting side by side, immersed in our own thoughts about children we love, hopes we have for futures for them, replaying missed opportunities on a looped mental tape in our minds.

Our culture is sort of bi-polar about motherhood, and what it expects of us.  On one hand, we are told we can have it all, we need to find our own independence and not rely on any man, we need to climb the corporate ladder to financial success and the admiration of our peers.  On the other hand, we are viewed a neglectful moms if we are not home every afternoon with warm home baked cookies and an icy cold glass of milk awaiting our children as they dismount the school bus.  We have a standard of perfection held up to us that is bound to do exactly what it did to this poor woman next to me, leaving us feeling inadequate no matter what we do.  Breast feed or bottle fed, homeschool or public school, college or trade school, organic or Doritos, sports or drama...and the list goes on and on.  We are judged over and over again for every single choice we make, and unlike men we can never escape it.

It leaves us so damaged, so willing to take on all responsibility for every single outcome, that we don't need anyone to put on the boxing gloves and pound on us in the ring...we do that all by ourselves, allowing the speed bag to repeatedly whack us in the face until we are bloodied and bruised beyond all recognition, until we no longer loon anything like the young mother who held her tiny little babe in her arms, so deeply, madly, passionately and protectively in love with this new life that we would give up anything to assure this little one's future is as wonderful as we can possibly make it.

She turned to me with a very kind smile and said, "I don't know why I said all of that to you, but I am glad I did.  You must be a great mom.  Thanks for listening to me, its just been a bad week, and I guess I am feeling a little like a failure."

I smiled back and said, "I understand more than you think I do, and I am glad our paths crossed this morning."

She got up and went to check on her grandma, who was just about finished, and carefully guided her out of the salon with a brief wave in my direction.

As I continued to wait for my turn, I wondered, will I have regrets?  When all is said and done, what sort of relationship will I have with our children?  Who will they become?  Will Nurture or Nature win out?  What mistakes have I made that will haunt me ten years from now?  We have taken a very different path in raising our kids, and will continue to do so.  Will we see those as wise decisions, or will we look back with heavy hearts and recognize we really screwed up?

I don't know, but I am grateful for each morning that comes when I can try anew.  I am liking what I see thus far, but continue to hold my breath and will probably do so for years to come.  After all, does any mom ever stop worrying?  I do know that no matter what, I can look into each of their eyes and say for sure, "I love you, I always have and I always will.  I did my best."

At some point, if I am wise I might have to accept that is all I can do.  I hope the woman I met can find a way to come to that place in her heart as well.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Week

Wednesday night the kids came bustling in from TaeKwonDo, and I had returned an hour earlier from choir practice and a church meeting.  The previously quiet house was abuzz with noise and activity, as jackets were flung off, and everyone was eager to share the goings on at class.  Angela and Matthew were teasing one another, as it seems she kicked him in the throat during sparring, and he got a couple of licks in as well.  Their good natured ribbing led to convulsive laughter, as Olesya threw in a comment or two.  Josh and Kenny were staying out of the fray, and eventually everyone headed off to the bedrooms to shower and change into PJ's.

One by one, they all filed back to the living room, where Dominick and I had enjoyed about 5 minutes of conversation to ourselves.  There was something about tonight, where everyone wanted to yack, and no one wanted to stop.

We talked for almost two hours about everything you can possibly think of...our food bank volunteering and the work going on there, new headphones and their acoustics versus older pairs, and science questions from today's lesson. We even talked about random factoids, and Olesya shared that the average hamburger bun at McDonald's sports 106 sesame seeds!  There was also the giggle fest that surrounded the boys needing athletic cups, and a quick sharing of information about various not-so-polite terms for the body parts of males.  Yup, high brow conversation at the LaJoy home this night!

It was then, after the laughter died down, and lights had been turned lower, that Kenny, Angela and I moved into deeper conversation as Olesya chimed in from time to time, and Matt and Joshua played nearby.  Valentine's Day is approaching, and what makes a good marriage was the main topic.  It was so interesting to hear them speak about marriage, what they hope for when they grow up, how they see that marriages between people who are very different can still be quite close and rewarding.  I learned that all of our kids see us as a very stable, very loving couple who is a perfect "team"...something that is sweet to hear your children say about you.  Of course, by this time, Dominick was so tired from his 4:00 am wake up this morning that he was fast asleep with his head on his chest, so he missed all the "good stuff" from the conversation.

Talk moved on to birth families, and future families of theirs.  Adoption really doesn't come up all that often in our home, we don't talk about it every day, but today it seemed to come into play a lot.  Olesya asked a most interesting question.  "Mom, if you had a baby of your own, would you still want to adopt?".  Olesya has decided she really doesn't want to ever get pregnant, as she is scared of how much it will hurt to deliver.  She wants children, but would prefer to adopt.  Angela has said all along she wants to adopt from Africa, but she might want give birth as well, but she is adamant about adopting.  I answered Olesya saying, "Lessie, I couldn't even imagine having a baby.  I never was able to picture what a child Dad and I might make would look like, and I would never want a biological child if it meant giving up one of you guys."  She looked at me and said, "For real?  You aren't even curious what your own kids would have looked like?" and I smiled and said, "Nope!  I already KNOW what my own kids look like!  They are sitting right here with me.  Giving birth wouldn't make a child any more our kid than adopting.  You are 100% our real kids."

Angela sat pondering that one for a moment, then said, "You know, I think there are a lot of people who couldn't adopt, or maybe who shouldn't adopt.  I have heard enough in four years to know that not everyone can do what you and Dad did, and sometimes I don't think we realize how special you guys are.  I don't think just anyone can love a kid who doesn't look like them, or who isn't genetically theirs.  Sometimes parents can't even be equal to kids they give birth to."  then she added, "It is so funny, but I can't even picture you and dad without us...like when you first got married. I know you were married a long time before having kids, but I can't imagine you guys without kids."  I know, Angie, we can't either.

That same day, Matthew and I were working on his literature, and it was a story written about a young Chinese boy about 60 years ago who was struggling with having to straddle the two worlds he was caught in...his parents' culturally Chinese world and his fully American life at school.  The boy didn't really see himself as Chinese, and was disappointed to discover that others viewed him as Chinese and discriminated against him when he want to try and find a job.  I asked Matthew, as an Asian residing in a family with Caucasian parents and sisters, how he felt about race.  Did he view himself as Kazakh and Asian?  American and Caucasian?  It is something we have never discussed before, and I was curious about his answer.

"I think I feel just like Matt," he replied, "I don't give race a thought at all until someone points it out or stares at us, then sometimes it gets a little annoying because I think it is ridiculous to even care whether I am walking down the street with a white mom or not.  Dad and I don't get the looks or comments as often, it is usually when I am with you.  I don't really think it is important that I think about myself as a race, as I am a heck of a lot more than just my race.  If other people want to narrow me down to a race, then fine, but I am not going to do that to myself."

Finding his answer interesting, I asked a follow up question, "Do you think we should have done more to help you identify as Asian?  As Kazakh?"

Matt laughed and said, "I don't know what more you could have done!  You took me back every single time, we lived there for 2 1/2 months!  You took us to all the adoption get togethers when were young.  But its not like there's this big Kazakh community here in American, you can't exactly go to Kazakhtown and eat Kazakh food or something.  Besides, I am 100% American. I know enough about Kazakhstan to know I am really lucky to be here rather than there.  No, Mom, I don't think there is anything else you can do but keep on doing what you have done all along...be honest, treat me as Matt and not "adopted Matt from Kazakhstan".  You're Mom and I'm your son, and who cares if others want to see how different we are.  Well, I mean, we ARE different because we are LaJoy's, but that's another story!" and he laughed over that one.

I know it is important to share culture with our kids, I know it is important for them to know where they came from, and identify as who they really are.  I think Matthew's perspective is a good one...I am Matt LaJoy first, I was from somewhere else, I am now here, and you can accept me or not, but I am going to be who I am...and who I am is not who you may want to pigeonhole me to be.

There are many folks who dislike this phase of their children's lives...the teen years can be filled with angst as they try on different personas, work at differentiating themselves from their parents, and look at the world through new, more mature eyes.  I can't even find the words to describe how beautiful I am finding this time to be!!  One kind of hard work...the more physical caring of bodies...is done, and another kind of parenting hard work is now in play...the listening and responding, the thoughtful feedback, the letting go a little and then revisiting for analysis.  Their bodies have changed or are changing, and their perspectives are as well.  We are at a stage where not a day goes by that one of them isn't teaching something new to me!  There are skills that are being honed, and new learning adventures being embarked upon.  The fruits of years of diligence in preaching about kindness, respect for others, responsible behavior, awareness that you really are not the center of the universe, are really being enjoyed.

I was a little surprised to learn to the degree some things have taken root when, on our drive home from volunteering Monday at the food bank, I casually said, "I think I will probably volunteer at the food bank for a long time to come.  I can see Dad and I doing this someday when we are older, if we are ever able to really retire."  I always figured the kids didn't mind volunteering, as it gets us out of the house and doing something a little different.  However, their passion has been kindled in ways I didn't expect, as much to my surprise, every one of the kids chimed in and said that they too hoped they could continue to volunteer there, and Matthew said, "I want to create a job for myself where I can schedule time to be able to do this sort of thing.  It is one reason I want to work for myself someday."  Angela added, "I may not always volunteer at the food bank, but only because I think I might like to volunteer to work with old people.  I really enjoy being around them and helping.  I think they are fascinating."  Kenny was quick to point out that, "The adults we meet there are really, really nice, and there are people volunteering there who are good quality people, they are the kind of people you want to surround yourself with because they don't think just about themselves all the time."  Good insight, Kenny!

Dominick and I deeply enjoy the time we share with our kids. At this age, that is saying something!  I can't count the number of times I hear, "Four teenagers that close together in age?  Oh, you have my sympathies!", then they look at me like I am a lunatic when I say honestly with a big grin, "I actually love it!  They are awesome and I love being with them all day!".  They are "becoming", and it is a joy to watch!

There is often a sense of deep satisfaction now, which I know might sound nuts.  Seeing Kenny with his head bent over an Electronics book as he learns alongside his Dad, curling up to read a good book with your 14 year old Monster Teen Son who still likes to snuggle and secretly share a bowl of Fishy Crackers with you, having long, deep conversations about the challenges of adult life with your beloved daughter who often "sees" more than many adults you know.  These are great miracles, they are the richest of moments in every day life.  Josh came running out of the airport when I picked him up this morning, hands full.  Up since 4:00 am working with Dominick, his cheerful little self hopped in and handed me a fresh-from-the-tap Diet Coke and a breakfast muffin, saying, "Just a little treat for you, Mom!"...this after having left me a sweet  note written on our white board for me to find this morning.  Olesya and I will be spending time in the kitchen this weekend, speaking her language, side by side as we no doubt giggle about the silliness going on around us.

Yesterday, on Valentine's Day, we sat around during our Morning Meeting and reminisced about our homecoming with the girls four years ago.  Angela smiled and said, "I was just thinking about that in the shower...how different our life is from what it was, how scared I was, and how I didn't know any of you very well.  Now, I can't imagine living without my parents and my brothers!"  In a little card she made for us, she wrote, "I have the best family I could have ever dreamed of!".  Later, our sweet tutor and dear friend,Miss Mary, took everyone out for ice cream.  We also celebrated Matthew's big Civil Air Patrol promotion to Cadet Officer.  We sat around slurping on cones, freezing a bit as we sat outside the store, and we laughed over English mistakes, taping cards on Matthew's volunteered body so we could learn names of body parts, and how far we have all come academically with our homeschooling adventure.

We all realized we have come a long way, Baby, not just in education, but in relationship with one another.  It hasn't always been easy, but it sure has been worth it!!

Our Valentine's Day doesn't happen just once a year, that's for sure.



Sunday, February 09, 2014

1300 Posts

1300 posts have chronicled the life of the LaJoy Family.

1300 posts over the course of 8 years.  I've slacked the last year or so, with fewer posts, but still faithfully more than one a week.

That's a lot of sharing we've done.  That's 3 children added to the family.  That's our 25th anniversary in there somewhere.  That's Dominick's 50th birthday this week.

That's a lot of heartache, hard work, love, sacrifice, changes and challenges...all contained within the 1300 posts about a single, ordinary family.

Lately, I seem to be having a harder time writing.  I am not sure why.  Maybe it is because change looms before us, life is a little harder at the moment and I don't feel like sitting down to write it out because it forces me to dwell on things that are not as positive. Maybe it is because the kids are growing older and there are fewer cutesy moments to write about, though certainly plenty of deep ones.  Part of it is being busy daily and not having the emotional "ooomph" by the end of the day to sit down and write.  A lot of it is, I am sure, because we are basically a very boring, settled family who prefers less drama and more peace.  I know we are less than entertaining for most people, as we are predictable, and not just a little dull.  Finally, well, for now at least.  We all like it that way, even if it is not exactly others' cup o' tea.

This weekend, as material was mentally gathering for a 1301st post, we had an ER visit with Dominick who was diagnosed with cellulitis across his cheeks and nose bringing on an antibiotic IV.  We are so grateful we were able to talk him into going to the ER.  He is very Old School, and it took my posting to Facebook and receiving several posts encouraging us not to ignore it for him to give in and agree to go.

We had to go to the emotional ER tonight with Olesya, which was really all of us sitting in the living room talking quietly as we encouraged her to be more open with the entire family.  She is the one child I have yet to really, really reach.  We love one another, very much, but she has a wall up that I have failed to help her chip away at so it can eventually crumble.  Oh, I've tried, over and over again, but her self-esteem is such that I have come to accept that it just might not ever happen.  However, tonight we saw a little crack...one that I might be able to wiggle my way through.

Everyone shared about how they feel she is the one in our family no one knows well, that it wasn't just Mom.  We asked why she felt she wasn't safe, asked if we had done something to make her feel that way, and she broke down sobbing.  Her past has effected her entire soul so much.  She questions her intelligence because of her disability with math...yesterday, despite having her math facts totally memorized, she said that 10-3 was 8.  She is able to muscle through math, understanding concepts momentarily, but her brain is like a sieve when it comes to math and it just doesn't hold on to or visualize numbers at all.

The bigger problem, we learned tonight, was that in Poludino, the orphanage where she was alone without Angela for 3 years, she was constantly picked on and made fun of because of her stutter.  She explained that she had few friends, and was the butt of jokes all the time.  Through her tears, she said there are times she wants to say things to us, but she can't get it out so she gives up.  Her stuttering problem goes through phases, sometimes it is really bad, and others you hardly notice it.  It appears random.  Some who know her have never noticed it, but we at home see it at its worst, and it is frustrating for her...but I sense that what was worse for her was admitting that she had been been bullied quite a bit.  She was embarrassed, and she said that she knew when she was younger everyone thought she was dumb.  I know we were told she almost went to an orphanage for delayed kids, but other than in math and logical thinking, a skill many adults even struggle with, she is very bright and has learned language skills incredibly fast.  She is generally well organized, too.

Four years later, it still doesn't feel safe enough.  She told us tonight that she had never shared those things before, and she didn't know why it was so hard to talk about her feelings or opinions.  She suffers, I know she does.  We all assured her that we love her, and would never make fun of her, and she said, "Oh, I know that...it is just that I learned how to act one way so everyone would leave me alone, and it is almost like I don't know how to be the real me anymore...because this isn't really the real me, and Mom is totally right.  But its like I hear those kids making fun of me all the time, even though I know my brothers and sister would never do that."  Each of the kids shared about times when they felt frustrated and struggled over learning challenges or not fitting in, and they were surprisingly honest.  Matthew shared about crying often over being smart but having writing that looked like a 3rd grader...a low performing 3rd grader.  He said, "I must have cried 20 times or more, because I couldn't fix it and didn't know what was wrong.  It's hard to admit when you can't do something well that is easy for everyone else."  One by one, each encouraged Olesya by sharing about their own shortcomings, as did I.

It was a couple of hours of intimate sharing of hearts.  Of course post 1301 would have to include that which makes us who we are...open and very, very imperfect.  No one left the room, no one acted bored, everyone let Olesya cry as she needed, and take her time to say what she could.  She doesn't have emotional language that is well developed.  We keep working on it, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year.  We still have so far to go, but maybe tonight was a baby step in the right direction.  She came to me for a big hug, and said, "I feel better than I have in a long time.  I'm sorry mom, I want to be close to you and everyone else.  I need to work at it, I have the best family and I do trust you.  Will you remind me about this conversation the next time you see me pulling away? I really want to fix this, I want to be a good mom someday, too, and I know I can't be if I don't make sure I feel OK about myself."  I think that is progress.  Awareness is half the battle.

Dominick's 50th birthday was this week, and he was not in a place where he wanted to celebrate it all that much.  We had a family cake, and went out to lunch in Grand Junction before my allergist appointment, which is a treat for us, but that was all we both really felt up to doing right now. I wanted to do something special for him for his big birthday, but things are just too much up in the air right now, and a big party or a weekend away was not in the cards.  He deserves so much, my uncomplaining, hard working, responsible, loving, loyal, amazing man.  It is hard to believe he is 50 years old...that WE are growing older.  It seems like yesterday that the 15 year old boy with the beautiful smile and wavy brown hair was holding my hand.  That same beautiful smile is still there, wrinkles accompanying it, and little hair as a crown these days.  I wish I could give him a real rest, a real vacation where he could lay around and do nothing for days on end, maybe on a beach somewhere.  That is probably not going to be something we can ever do, but I wish it for him all the same.

I will be taking 5 different medications for a bit to get my asthma under control, as it is flaring up worse than ever.  Then I will be doing sublingual immunotherapy, which is drops under the tongue, instead of allergy injections.  I will be only the third allergy patient on the Western Slope of Colorado to try this new therapy, which is supposed to be almost as effective as the more expensive injections.  My testing was pretty intense, and my reactions were far worse than in years past...I had welts that were 40-70 mm in diameter from each of the various allergens they tested me for.  You know it is bad when the nurses walk in the room to begin measuring and you hear audible gasps, followed by an exclamation of, "Oh honey, we'll do this as quick as we can so we can put something on it!".  We are hopeful that doing this long term, if we can afford it, will eventually get my lungs in better shape.

I need to blog more often, I need to make time for it.  1300 posts tells a story I haven't recorded anywhere else.  I am so glad I have done this much for the kids, and wish blogs had been around as a popular form much earlier.  I am not a scrapbooker, nor a movie taker, but I have tried my best to share the heart of what makes us a family here.  I've at least made a faithful attempt to share some of the sacred moments as they occurred, and to capture events in pixelated form so that photos are kept somewhere other than an old shoe box.  Along the way to hitting those 1300 posts, our family has met some wonderful people, and our lives have been enriched in numerous ways by the connections we have made via the internet.

But this blog is really for us.  I know others have followed along, sometimes agreeing with things, other times probably screaming at the screen in complete horror and disagreement.  It doesn't really matter.  What matters is this is an authentic diary of our life.  Yes, there are things I have left out, but I have included enough that it tells our story reasonably, honestly, and hopefully with some level of depth.  It has been a story of love and loss, of death and rebirth, of faith, trust and hope...always, always hope.

1300 posts.  Closing in on a decade.  What will the next 1300 posts bring?  Will I reach 2600 posts, or will I eventually stop recording this life of ours?

I hope I continue, I hope I never turn my back on this old friend of mine.  But more importantly, I hope that the bonds of love that draw us together grow ever stronger, and eventually encircle many others...those who bear our last name and those who just carry the knowledge of our love around with them.  The next 1300 posts will surely recount stories of first tentative steps out into the world, the decisions about career paths, first loves, and more.  There will be a lot more to overcome, there will hopefully be more adventures together, there is Europe to continue to save that laundry change for!  I have no idea if we can ever really do it, but we have the savings account started with the $360ish dollars in laundry change as seed money.  It may be all that ever ends up in that account, but at least we will have all had the dream for a little bit, even if it never comes true.

One thing I can thankfully guarantee...there will be no lack of love in the next 1300 posts.  That may be corny as all get out, but I don't really care.  As Angela is so fond of pointing out, we are "Limited Edition", so we can be as corny as we want to be!

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Safe

There are days, and then there are days.  Yesterday was a precious, "Home Sweet Home" kind of day.  These are the days one recalls fondly when children are raised and the house is quiet as vacant rooms silently whisper in your ear.  My whispers will no doubt be filled with an eclectic mix of the sound of Lego's being stirred up, Indian dance music softly playing, giggles over which Bollywood star is the most handsome, and the swishing of imaginary swords being swung through the air.

We're living beneath a bit of a burden right now, there are moments when a heaviness settles over us as our future looms frighteningly unknown before us.  It is at moments like these when the Spirit carries you, when you hear things you might not have heard prior.  I was reminded in a sermon our Pastor gave recently that though paths may change, and we have choices to make, God keeps us safe.  Safe.  That word helped more than she might have known, as one tries to choke down a gradually building fear.  Knowing God "has our back" helps.  We were never promised "easy", but I'll take "hard" as long as it is "safe".  It somehow dramatically shifted how I felt.  Yesterday, all felt "Safe" and it was like a little gift packaged up just for me.

The sweetness of this day started out surprisingly soft, as 7:00 am finds kids gradually awakening on their own and getting themselves ready to face the day.  The rhythm of our days is nothing extraordinary, but it is ours, and it is good.  The physically harder days of dressing, bathing and cooking for young ones is behind us, and self-sufficiency is now the norm.  We quietly move around one another in the kitchen, a bowl of cereal poured here, an egg fried there, clinking of glasses and emptying of the dishwasher almost wordlessly performed by whoever is standing around waiting for food to be ready.

We gathered around the table for our Morning Meeting, during which we talked about our schedule for the next few days, joked about the afternoon's "entertainment" of dissection for "Science Friday", sort of a take off on NPR's tradition.  The warmth of the fire Kenny had created in the woodstove was already making its way to the dining area (As if we even have a formal dining area! Haha!) and the snow outside was falling in fluffy flakes that caused a sense of excitement and anticipation.  It's been a dry Colorado winter thus far, with weeks that were snowless, so this was a bit of a treat!  Eventually, Miss Mary came at her appointed time, and we all snuggled in for our reading time for the morning...Matt and I in my bedroom, tucked under blankets on the big bed, and the other kids with Mary...Sunny curled up on one lap, then another, then another.  Lively conversation was heard from both sides of the house, as literature was read aloud and discussed, debated and devoured.

Before we knew it, literature time was over.  Lunch was next, then on to the Main Event.  Some of you may have seen my "blow by blow" photos and sharing on Facebook, but Grandma didn't so I am sharing some photos below:


Josh is looking like he is ready to enjoy this!


Matt surprisingly got into the whole thing, even though biology is not really his favorite.


Olesya is preparing herself for battle...hair tied back, gloves being donned.


And...of course...we had several Dead Fish conversations going back and forth between the boys.


Josh is carefully documenting information in his lab book...external observations about the fish.  Everyone was interested when they saw fish scales up close and examined them.  


Kenny is a little dubious about what comes next.


Deep in thought, Olesya is an excellent science student and really enjoys it!


Don't let that smile food you, Angela is now clearly headed on a different career path than nursing!  She got "slimed" a couple of times and cracked us all up with her squeals.

Next, it was the frog.  Everyone agreed that of all the dissections this year, the frog was the easiest to work with, and the coolest to dissect as everything was clearly visible:


Angela decided the frog wasn't nearly as "icky" as the fish, and she dug in!


Matt was efficient, and said it wasn't much different than following blueprints or diagrams.


The "Official Family Handler of All Things Dead" (It comes in handy when removing mice from traps, etc.!) spent the most time on this lesson, of course!


This might be one of my favorite photos of this time in our lives.  

Olesya was struggling and asked for help, and Matthew jumped up to come over and point out what she wasn't able to see.  He worked with her for about 10 minutes, pointing out all the parts she needed to see so she could clearly label them.  The spirit of cooperation and friendship among our kids is something quite rare in a world where siblings are supposed to hate one another right along with their parents, 
as portrayed in every Disney show these days.  

While they tease one another and occasionally have a "moment" where they are as flippant as any of the rest of us can be with one another, the overwhelming majority of the time this is what is exhibited...concern, acceptance, care for one another, and genuine affection.  How I hope this is so deeply embedded it lasts a lifetime, for if so, they will have something many are denied...siblings who are true friends.

As a mom, watching this spontaneous display of kindness was another gift handed to me yesterday afternoon, better than anything that could be wrapped with a big ribbon on top.

After frog guts and fish gills were properly disposed of, it was time for some snow play!!  Though we reside in the heart of ski country, we seldom have the kind of snow that is good for building and snowball fights, for it is usually too dry.  This snow, however, was quickly recognized to be perfect, wet snow, and everyone bundled up to go out and enjoy it.


The beginnings of the snowman head.

Angela, Josh and Kenny...Angela proved to be the expert as she made plenty of snowmen in Kazakhstan where they had "the right kind of snow...but not yellow snow! Hahaha!  Isn't that funny, Mom?"

Diehards...even while it is still snowing

Arms 


This is intense group work!


Every snowman must be properly dressed.



When I told Angela she did a great job on the snowman, I loved how she instantly corrected me and said, "Oh, Joshua and I did it together, it wasn't just me."



Lessie...or "Olay" as the kids have taken to calling her!


Now that's thinkin'!  Grab the spray can when you have no coal or buttons!


The finished Cowboy Snowman Guard!  Someone is missing....hmmm...where could Matthew be?


Let's go check out the backyard.  I simply adore our backyard view in the winter, the neighbors' cows strolling in the field behind our property.  We have three acres which actually extends all the way back to that line of cows, there is another fenceline there they are walking beside.  The closer fenceline just divides our landscaped area from our back pasture area.  We all love the way the globe willow trees look in the winter, heavy with snow.


Ahhhh HAAA!  Here he is, shoveling off the patio and using the castoff snow to begin building a snow fort!



Goofing around, Team LaJoy style!


This one cracks me up, it reminds me of the Judge in Petropavlovsk asking about "mixing" Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Russian children in the same family.  Yea, it looks like that is a big problem.  Adults breed the attitude of hatred for one another, kids don't.


As we were continuing to play outside, Kenny came running to us waving something in the air.  "Mom, I found my wallet!!"  It had been in his snow pants all along, and he had counted it lost. Thrilled is a word too mild for what he felt, as it had been lost with $75 in it.



Here's my handsome, happy boy!


The Duo is plotting a little yard decorating, LaJoy Style.


Saw this photo and realized I have two men living with me now, and two gradually heading that way.  He took his jacket off because it was too hot.   Matt looks so mature here, it always catches me off guard when any of the kids have one of those "leaps" and changes a lot.



And here is what it is all about...



Little gifts all day long, that's what it felt like.  The day ended with a unique FB complement and revelation from our pastor about our kids and a moment she had with them which I had not known about which unveiled their character in a special way...another gift wrapped present.

Every time I find myself fearful, every time I find myself thinking we are in danger of sinking, something comes along to hold me up.  Last week was hard, the coming weeks might be harder, but through it all there is a thread of something that might be difficult to see clearly on those overwhelming days.

Yesterday was a reassuring day, one filled with all the goodness a family could ever ask for.  Today I woke up to a note from our 11 year old son, left for us in the wee hours of the morning as he was readying himself to go to work with his Daddy at 4:00 am.  His last thought as he left the house was of those tucked away in their beds:


It IS a good morning, it really is.
We are safe, and that is enough.




Good Ol' American Interdependence!

Good old Thomas Merton, he certainly "gets it", doesn't he? The theme of interdependence is one that is being regularly ...